Whitehorse teen’s bat houses provide sanctuary assisting fragile populations

Colten Law's summer digital-detox project has yielded homes for nocturnal fliers

Colten Law, a teenager from Whitehorse, has sharpened his carpentry skills and provided wild bats with a retreat from the midnight sun.

His handcrafted bat houses, which he began work on before the summer break, have started to become popular on Facebook Marketplace with more than a dozen orders already placed from Pelly Crossing to Atlin, B.C.

“At first I was selling birdhouses and then one of my customers asked me whether I could build bat houses, so that’s how I got started,” Law said.

While participating in the Junior Canadian Rangers program, Law acquired wood crafting skills. The program emphasizes practical skills and cultural practices as described on their website. Law then applied what he had learned to launch a small business venture with the goal of acquiring an electric vehicle over the summer.

Rebecca Law, Colten’s mother, informed the News that the family undertook a digital detox, using the time away from screens to hone practical skills and engagement with the community.

“Colten decided that woodwork was going to be part of what he did to pass the time away. And, you know, learn a new skill. And it really has taken off quite well, even though it was kind of a difficult transition from sitting in front of video games building Minecraft-like houses to building actual birdhouses and bat houses,” Rebecca said.

Bats can be found roosting in human-made structures such as attics, walls and eaves. They can enter through openings as small as 1.5 centimetre-wide by three-centimetre-tall windows, doors or chimneys as noted in the Yukon government’s wildlife viewing guide.

Bat houses deter squeaking bats from roosting in man-made dwellings, offering them a nearby safe spot to live and contribute toward insect control.

“We've had people ask us for bat houses, one in Pelly, a couple people in Atlin and in Whitehorse. There was just a phenomenal amount of people that asked about bat houses,” said Rebecca.

The little brown bat, northern myotis and big brown bat are common species in the Yukon. According to the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society, they significantly contribute to the territory’s ecosystems by managing insect populations without the use of chemical pesticides. This helps maintain ecological balance and supports the territory’s agricultural activities, as well as reduces mosquito numbers.

The Yukon Environment department has actively worked to protect and track little brown bat populations. They have installed bat houses, similar to those built by Law, throughout the Yukon for data gathering and monitoring of breeding groups, including Squanga and Tarfu lake campgrounds, as detailed in their 2014-2015 annual report.

Low reproduction rates and unsuitable environments make Yukon’s bat populations fragile. Bats may conserve energy due to short summer nights, limiting their reproductive activity. As a result, habitat loss and diseases significantly impact them, as the Canadian Parks and Wilderness Society reports.

White nose syndrome, a fungal disease, threatens bat populations in the Yukon. Bats affected by the disease display disoriented behaviours, such as prematurely ending their hibernation periods and flying during daylight hours. These unusual activities, as described in the Yukon government’s wildlife viewing guide, leave bats vulnerable to daytime predators like hawks.

The wildlife viewing guide reports that the disease has killed more than six million bats across North America, with cases detected from the east coast to the west coast since 2007. The guide also advises against handling sick bats, although the disease poses no risk to humans.

The guide indicates that researchers seek information about bat roost sites, hibernation areas and migration patterns from members of the public. Yukon Environment’s 2014-2015 annual report highlights the significance of bat houses as critical data collection points for preserving vulnerable bat populations.

Law’s business venture offers communities across the Yukon chances to establish their own roosting sites, potentially aiding researchers in understanding bat populations better and safeguarding a delicate aspect of the local ecosystem.

Bats can rest easy in Law’s houses listed on the Facebook market.